Woodberry Woods

Woodberry neighborhood between Druid Hill Park and Cylburn Arboretum
Baltimore, MD

Submitted by: Janis Danforth

An urban forest surrounded by diverse built environment (homes) suffering from creeping urban sprawl.

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Why It Works

This watershed forest is 100+ acre unprotected public urban woodlands. Some of the trees are over 150 years old. There are at least 43 species of birds, and the forest serves as the habitat for many other animals. There are wetlands, steep slopes, and three streams, and the site is next to a major waterway – the Jones Falls.

This urban forest is suffering from creeping urban sprawl and is being threatened by multiple developments, including the impending threat of a 71-acre sports complex with a 6000-seat stadium. If all proposed developments succeed, the area will suffer the influx of 2,300 added parking spaces, glutting the bordering streets, and parking in the woodlands.

What Makes Woodberry Woods a Great Place?

One can simply walk into the woods from five entrance points. Certain parts of the interior area are even paved, since two landfills once operated there (they are now closed). The few vehicles include maintenance for the landfills (rare) and maintenance for the television towers (more frequent). It is very visually accessible from all sides. Sidewalks have recently been improved on the north end, to the joy of the many who walk to the public transit on the east border (trains and some buses). A new trail system - mostly plantings to attract awareness and invasive vine removal - has been started along the north border where foot and vehicle traffic is most heavy. Neighborhood children have helped with the new hardwood plantings and clean-ups.

Woodberry Woods is making an even better first impression since the vine removal and new trees. Men and women accessing the area are about equal; quite a few children know the area as well. This is not a public park, although it is unprotected public open space. There is no “seating,” unless you simply sit on the ground, which is fine for most visitors. It used to be the site of two landfills, so illegal dumping still occurs, but has been curtailed by the attention we've given it – there is less litter than before. The only regular maintenance is by volunteers for the Woodberry Land Trust, and neighborhood stewards. The area feels "wild" - it is not a park, so whoever comes here knows they are on their own. No criminal incidents have been reported, except the crime of the city putting two landfills in such a remarkably beautiful forest. There are no security guards except on the private properties scattered around the borders. Vehicles do not dominate the space – yet. If the developers succeed, vehicles will totally dominate the woodlands, and it will become private property if the city makes the mistake of selling Woodberry woods.

People regularly use the space. It has been known since 1790. I know 80-year old people in this neighborhood who used to play there when they were children. Girls in the neighborhood used to go up there to snake-hunt (harmless snakes). Illegally, some come to run their motorcycles on the hills. People walk their dogs here; it's quite isolated and not official. The choices include walking, and even running away to camp at night for a wild-in-the-city feeling. Parts of the space not used? Mostly, it is a place of discovery (100+ acres is a lot of ground to cover), because a newcomer couldn't possibly see everything in a four-hour walk. It is also a living classroom - at least five types of forest are here. Baltimore Ecosystems Study wants to bring in students to research the ecology of the place.

The people whose houses surround Woodberry are complacent, after nearly 200 years of being used to having the woods outside their door. Many are unaware of the impending developments which would rob them of the trees and birdsong and wildlife. They don't realize the predictable impacts that would bring automobile dominance of their area. Some neighbors are friendly, some are backbiting, and some are involved, deeply or peripherally, but most are not involved in the least to improve their surroundings. Many come and go and hide inside their homes, trapped by television and petty concerns. The Woodberry Woods tend to be used singly, or in small groups (we have held a candle/lantern lighting every New Year's Eve for the last three years at midnight on the crest of the highest hill.) The Green Party is now involved and we had a great time this last New Years (2002-2003). The local pride, unfortunately, is a kind of unawareness, the area is taken for granted. People believe that the trees will be there when they walk out their door tomorrow; but not so if the developers shave them down and build a huge tennis court - which is actually proposed. It is a touring place, not a meeting place. I have conducted more than 300 tours to groups and individuals since 1998. I played in these woods since I learned how to walk, and into my twenties I enjoyed watching the boys and girls in the neighborhood build forts, install rope swings, pick berries alone and with children, retreat, discover, and explore. Ratio of locals to visitors/tourists? More locals access the area yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Tourists/visitors are learning of the place, and come out of curiosity. I still conduct tours for those unfamiliar with the area and who want to help.

Contact Info:

Jan Danforth, 2250 Druid Park Drive, Baltimore, MD 21211

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